Summer officially begins June 21 (yasss!), and we can’t think of any better way to celebrate the season than a trip to the farmers’ market. Farm-to-table cooking has become the new standard, and a quick search on the Internets will give you plenty of recipes and inspiration to keep you au courant. But sometimes, navigating through those farmers’ market aisles and haggling with the local vendors can be a bit tricky. Check out our tips for navigating your local market and you’ll be rocking your stylish tote and shopping like a chef in no time.
1. Do a little research. Before you go, do a quick inventory of your fridge and pantry so you can menu plan on the fly when you’re at the market. Refer to a seasonality chart to familiarize yourself with what’s in season in your home state and start brainstorming some meals. Many market organizations also offer free electronic newsletters.
2. Don’t use a grocery list. While you may have some ideas in mind before you go, don’t be too rigid about your shopping list. Small-farm harvests can be inconsistent, and that’s just part of the fun of buying local. Pay attention to what looks the freshest and most abundant and let that be your inspiration.
3. Ask the vendor questions. You have experts in front of you, so use them! For many farmers, this is their passion and they’ll be excited to chat with you about it. Don’t know what a cardoon is? How about puntarelle? Ask! A vendor can also guide you on how to select the best produce, and many will even have ideas about how to prepare or serve something. If a vendor is not helpful, find one who is and give them your business.
4. Taste everything. Restaurant chefs shopping at the market always try before they buy, even if the samples are not prominently displayed. I was surprised the first time I saw a chef popping various leafy greens into his mouth before making a decision. Always ask first, but generally a vendor will be happy to let you taste something.
5. Look beyond produce. Ever tasted a sun-ripened peach picked in the last 24 hours? How about one that sat on the truck for a week? One perk of shopping at the market means that you have access to the freshest produce. The same idea applies to all kinds of other foods at the market. Rice, beans and nuts found at chain grocery stores can be as old as a few years. Buy them from your local farmers’ market and they’re probably no older than a few months. You’ll also find small-batch jams and baked goods, local honey and cheeses and free-range organic eggs and meat.
6. Go early. The early bird gets the best bushel of kale. While everyone else is rolling out of bed, you’ll have your pick of the best and ripest products. It’s also generally less hectic, and farmers will have more time to answer your questions.
7. Become a regular. It’s hard to compare every single mandarin in the market in just one morning. Explore regularly and you’ll soon develop a sense of your favorite growers and vendors.
8. Go prepared. Markets can be overwhelming. Save yourself some stress by preparing ahead of time. Carry cash and keep it accessible. Wear comfortable shoes and don’t forget a cute tote to stash all your goodies!
What fruits and veggies are you loving this season at the market? Tell us in the comments below!
(Photo via Justin Sullivan/Getty)